How does a Bill Become a Law

How does a Bill Become a Law

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How does a Bill Become a Law


The single most important job of the U.S. Congress is to create law. Every law in the United States starts out as a bill. Before a bill becomes a law, it must first be approved by the House of Representatives, the Senate, and finally the President. 

The Beginning of the Bill

Laws and bills start out as ideas. These ideas can originate from a Representative or Senator, or from citizens who contact them. If a Representative or Senator agrees, the idea can then be written into a bill. 

Proposing and Introducing a Bill

Only a member of the House or Senate is allowed to introduce a new bill for Consideration. When a Representative writes a bill, it requires a sponsor. The Representative discusses the bill with other Representatives in an attempt to find support. The Member who introduces the bill is the primary sponsor. Unless the bill is a private bill, it may have an unlimited amount of Members cosponsoring the bill. The bill must be signed by the primary sponsor and any original cosponsors. Others can choose to add or remove their names as sponsors after the introduction. Once a bill has a primary sponsor and support from some Representatives, it can be introduced.

There are four different types of legislation that can be considered by Congress:

Bills

Simple Resolutions

Joint Resolutions

Concurrent Resolutions

In order to introduce the legislation, a Representative places the bill in the Hopper (located next to the clerk’s desk), while a Senator must gain the recognition of the presiding officer of the senate in order to announce the bill introduction in the morning. 

A bill is officially introduced once it is assigned a number (e.g. H.R. 1 for a House Bill or S. 1 for a Senate Bill) and is then printed by the Government Printing Office in the Congressional Record.

The Bill Goes to Committee

When the bill goes the committee, the committee looks over the bill in detail. The committees that look over the bill is the one relevant to the content to the bill. Committees can approve the bill, which allows it to continue on the legislative process. However, they can also reject these bills by not acting on them, resulting in the death of the bill.

If the committee wishes to receive more information on the bill before making a decision on whether it should continue onto the house floor, the bill is then forwarded to a subcommittee where it is more closely scrutinized. More expert opinions are gathered and a decision is made. Afterwards, the bill is send back the committee. The Speaker of the House can place time limits on how long a committee has to look over a bill.

Reporting the Bill

After a committee has approved the bill, it is then reported to the floor. In the House of Representatives, the bill is placed on a House calendar in the rough order that they were reported. However, the majority leader and the Speaker of the House decide on when the bill will reach the floor, regardless of when it was placed on the calendar.

In the Senate, proposed bills are also added onto the Legislative Calendar. Additionally, there is an Executive calendar that manages nominations and treaties. The majority leader schedules the legislations, but the bills can be brought to the floor any time a majority of the Senate wishes.

Debating the Bill

In the House, the debate is regulated by specific rules made by the Rules Committee. The debate is guided by the committee that sponsored it against the Committee of the Whole, which can debate and amend the bill without passing it. Time is equally divided between both parties, while the Committee decides just how much time goes to an individual. Amendments can be made, but they must be relevant to the bill.

After the debate, the bill is brought back to the floor where the House votes on it through a quorum call, ensuring that enough Representatives (a total of at least 218) are available to vote. Without this quorum, the House can either adjourn or find the missing members by sending the Sergeant at Arms.

In the Senate, the debate around a bill is unlimited unless a motion of cloture is invoked. A senator can speak as long as they wish and can also propose amendments that are completely irrelevant to the bill. They can also use a filibuster to extend debate, effectively delaying or killing the bill. 

Voting on the Bill

After the debate between the Committees is finished, the bill is voted on. If it passes, the bill then moves on to the other chamber, unless the other change has already considered a similar issue. If both parts of Congress fail to pass the bill, it dies. However, if both the House and Senate pass the exact bill, it then goes to the President for approval. In the case that the bills passed by the House and Senate are different, they go to the Conference Committee.

Conference Committee

Members from both the Senate and the House form the conference committee which then meets in order to fix the differences between the two bills. The members of this committee are usually senior members appointed by presiding officers of the committee that dealt with the bill originally. Both Houses work to keep as much of their version of the bill as possible. Once the Conference Committee reaches a compromise between the different versions, a report is written up. The conference report is then submitted to both chambers of Congress, who then must approve the report.

Sending the Bill to the President

When a bill finally goes to the President, there are three different courses of action. First, the President can pass the bill by signing it. Next, the President can fail to sign it, but do nothing. The bill automatically becomes law after ten days, if Congress is in session. The last option is if the President refuses to sign the bill, which is known as a veto. The bill is then sent back to Congress with the reasons for the veto. The chamber that initially made the legislation can try to override the veto through a vote which requires a two thirds vote of the members in attendance. 

The Bill Becomes a Law

After a bill has passed in both chambers of Congress and has gained the President’s approval (or if Congress has overridden the President’s veto), the new law is assigned a number and is then enforceable by the government. 

 

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